Press Briefing by Conference Call with Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Tom Kalil, and National Economic Policy Advisor Gene Sperling (9/20/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release              September 20, 2000

                             PRESS BRIEFING BY
                           CONFERENCE CALL WITH
                                TOM KALIL,

2:30 P.M. EDT

          MR. KALIL:  As you know, on Thursday, President Clinton will be
traveling to Flint, Michigan, a part of his ongoing initiative to bridge
the digital divide and create digital opportunity for all Americans.  He
started this tour and kicked it off in East Palo Alto, California.

          In Flint, the President will be visiting the Assistive Technology
Access Center, which is at an organization called the Disability Network,
which is a nonprofit that helps empower people with disabilities.  And this
center will be offering access to cutting-edge technology for people with
disabilities and other members of the community.

          To give you some sense for the kinds of technologies that help
empower people with disabilities, it includes things like screen readers
for people who are blind; voice recognition for people that have a
difficult time using a keyboard due to physical disabilities; websites that
follow the guidelines of the Worldwide Web consortiums, web accessibility
initiative; audio and video captioning, video description; and computers
that can be operated by eye movements for people with spinal cord or Lou
Gehrig's disease, that type of thing.

          So the President will see demonstrations of a number of different
kinds of technologies.  And then the President will be giving a speech at
Mott Community College in which he will announce concrete actions by both
the administration companies, universities and nonprofits, to help ensure
that people with disabilities are full participants in the benefits of
information technology.

          The goals that we have identified after working with the
disability community and the private sector are ensuring that existing
information and communications products and services are accessible to and
usable by people with disabilities.

          The second goal is to approve the state of the art of the system
technology.  The third is to ensure that our existing efforts to bridge the
digital divide, such as our initiative to create a national network of
community technology centers are accessible to people with disabilities.

          The fourth goal is to look at information technology as a way of
increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  And
finally, our last goal is to increase access to technology for people with
disabilities that cannot currently afford this.

          Q    Tom, do the federal concrete actions involve money, or what?

          MR. KALIL:  Yes, that's right.  We're not going to talk about the
specific deliverables, but the federal government -- I also wanted to go
over some of the reasons why the President is speaking on this issue, to
give you some background on sort of where we are currently.  Right now,
about 24 percent of people with disabilities have access to a computer at
home, and that's compared to around 52 percent of those without
disabilities.  Only 31 percent of the Americans with severe disabilities
who are of working age between 21 and 64 are working, and that's compared
to about 8 out of 10 of people without disabilities.

          And the interesting thing is that people with disabilities
believe that having access to the Internet is very important.  And 48
percent of people with disabilities who have access to the Internet believe
that it has significantly improved their quality of life compared 27
percent of the adults without disabilities.  And that was from a Harris
poll that came out in June of 2000.

          Q    You said a percentage of those with severe disabilities
between the age of 21 and 64 working was 34 percent?

          MR. KALIL:  Thirty-one percent, and that's from the Census

          Q    Have any other centers like these opened beside the one in

          MR. KALIL:  Yes, yes.  There's an organization -- I want to step
back and make a point, though.  Our goal is to ensure that all information
and communications technologies are accessible for people with
disabilities, so one of the things that we are going to be working on is to
ensure that the web is accessible for people with disabilities.  So it's
not like there will be a separate Worldwide Web for people with
disabilities and another one for everyone else.  The goal is to ensure that
all mainstream information in communications technologies are accessible
for people with disabilities.

          Q    This is John Williams with Business Week.  How do you plan
to achieve that goal, and what major businesses in the information tech
field are going to take the lead?

          MR. KALIL:  Stay tuned for tomorrow.

          Q    Ahh, come on.  (Laughter.)

          Q    Is there any carryover between the technology at these
centers and the technology that's going to be available at the one-stops,
for instance?

          MR. KALIL:  Yes.  One of the things that's very interesting about
the one-stop in Flint is that it has made really a special effort to ensure
that it is accessible for people with disabilities.

          Q    Will the President be visiting that center as well?

          MR. KALIL:  He will not be visiting that center as well.  He'll
be at the Assistive Technology Access Center, at the Disability Network,
and then he will be giving a speech at Mott Community College.

          Q    Who would be putting together this national network?

          MR. KALIL:  I'm sorry, which national network are you referring

          Q    Well, you mentioned the national --

          MR. KALIL: Yes, in our budget proposal --

          Q    For fiscal 2001?

          MR. KALIL:  For 2001 -- we have proposed $100 million for
community technology centers.  And that's building on previous investments
that we've made in the last two fiscal years.  We started out the program
at $10 million, and then last year we were able to get $32.5 million.  And
this year we're requesting $100 million.

          Q    And where are you in that process?

          MR. KALIL:  Well, it's getting near the end of the fiscal year.
It's in the Department of Education budget, it's in Labor/HHS.

          Q    And how will this center differ from any of the tech centers
that are out there now?

          Q    Or the rehab centers that are out there now?

          MR. KALIL:  What's different about this center, as opposed to
other community technology centers, is that they have made a special effort
to ensure that assistive technology is present, and it's co-located with a
disability network organization.

          Q    How are they funded?

          MR. KALIL:  They have received a grant from the Department of
Education, the Community Technology Center.  And they've also received some
local funding, as well.

          Q    Could you talk a little more specifically about some of the
technologies that the President will see tomorrow?  For example, you
mentioned screen readers.  Is he going to see those, and what are they?

          MR. KALIL:  There are number of different technologies that the
President will be seen.  Gene has just joined us.  He will be seeing an
Eye-Gaze system.  This is a really remarkable piece of technology that
allows someone with Lou Gehrig's disease or a spinal cord injury that is
not able to speak and use a speech recognition system to operate a computer
merely by looking at different parts of the screen.  So they can send
e-mail, they can use a computer, they can turn household appliances on and
off just by looking at different parts of the screen.

          Q    And what is that system called?  Is that the Genie system,
or do you know?

          MR. KALIL:  Eye-Gaze.

          Q    Eye-Gaze.  It's been around for about five years.

          Q    Oh, that's the brand name.

          Q    Is that available now?

          Q    It's been around for five years.

          Q    Can you describe anything else that he's going to look at?
Anything that is new?

          MR. KALIL:  Yes.  He will also be seeing electronic book
technology.  And what's really interesting about this is that this is the
mainstream electronic book technology that companies are starting to
introduce, but it is also going to have the benefit of being fully
accessible to people with disabilities?

          Q    How so?

          MR. KALIL:  Because you will be able to display the information
both -- and also braille.

          Q    So who's system is that?

          MR. KALIL:  It's using the daisy technical system.

          Q    National Cash Register has done some publishing with digital
talking books.

          Q    I have a question.  On the five goals, I noticed one of the
goals that is mentioned is universal design and technology from the
beginning.  Is the President going to make any efforts to make this
mandatory, that when software or hardware is created that it's accessible
to people with disabilities?

          MR. KALIL:  Absolutely.  The first goal is to ensure that
existing information and communications technology are accessible and
usable by people with disabilities.  And the President has already taken a
number of steps in this area --

          Q    I'm talking about newly developing technology.  As they're
developing technology, making it -- starting from day one -- universal
design so that it's accessible to everybody in the development phase.  I'm
not talking about existing technology; I'm talking about in the development

          MR. KALIL:  Absolutely.  And that's been a priority of the
administration.  That's why the President is a very strong supporter of the
provisions of Telecom Act of 1996 -- that's why we fought hard to ensure
that the government uses its --

          Q    So you're saying it is mandatory?  You're going to make this

          MR. KALIL:  I'm saying that the -- provision, both in the '96
Telecom Act that -- require telecommunications companies to design their --
(phone line gets dropped.)

          MR. SPERLING:  This is Gene Sperling and Tom Kalil here.

          Q    When you talked about the 24 percent of those with
disabilities who have access to home computers, do you know how big a group
that 24 percent -- how many millions of people we're talking about?

          MR. KALIL:  The overall number of people with disabilities is 54
million according to the Census.

          Q    And when you talk about the $100 million being sought for
these community technology centers, are those technology centers designed
exclusively or solely for the disabled, or is that --

          MR. KALIL:  No, no.

          Q    These are across the board?

          MR. KALIL:  Right.

          Q    Will the address at Mott College following the visit to the
Disability Networking Plant, is that going to be on the same subject
matter, then?

          MR. KALIL:  Yes, that's right.  The President, in his address at
the community college will announce the specific steps that the government,
the private sector, universities and nonprofits are taking to help meet
these five goals.

          Q    Will he be offering any types of tax incentives to the
businesses to make their --

          MR. KALIL:  I'm not going to talk about the specific
announcements that he's going to make.  The President will make those

          Q    Can you tell us how you identified the people who will
demonstrate the specific technologies, and if you can release their names?

          MR. KALIL:  We'll be able to have that information for you

          Q    Not until tomorrow?

          Q    Can you talk a little bit about the rest of the itinerary
with the meeting with the Michigan Democrat Party and also with the
attorneys, along with Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer?

          MR. KALIL:  No, I'm sorry, I'm not in a position to do that.

          Q    Tom or Gene, you mentioned one of the goals was making IT
for the -- IT would increase employment opportunities.  How does that
translate for the civil service?

          MR. KALIL:  The President has set a specific goal during the 10th
anniversary of the ADA, to increase civil service employment for people
with disabilities.

          Q    Okay, so that won't really be further addressed.

          MR. KALIL:  That's right.  The President addressed that during
the 10th anniversary.

          Q    Tom, could you actually speak on the role that corporations
are being asked to play in implementing this technology in the workplace?

          MR. KALIL:  We think they have a critical role to play, both in
terms of the IT companies in designing new products so that they're
accessible for people with disabilities, and as employers purchasing this
technology and using it as a way of increasing employment for people with
disabilities.  I think you're starting to see more corporations interested
in that, particularly as the labor market gets tighter and tighter.

          Q    Is the President addressing the need for training people in
the use of these assistive technologies?

          MR. KALIL:  Yes, part of what happens at these community
technology centers is it's not just that the technology's available, but
that people are there to help people -- explain how to use the technology.
And the particular center that we're visiting actually is developing a
certification program so that people can get certified in the use of these

          Q    Would you mind giving me the name of that center one more
time?  I'm sorry.

          MR. KALIL:  Sure, it's the Assistive Technology Access Center,
and it's at an organization called the Disability Network.  It received
funding from the Department of Education's Community Technology Center

          Q    Do you know how old it is?

          MR. KALIL:  This is sort of -- I don't know how old the
Disability Network is, but this will sort of be the grand opening of the

          Q    Tom or Gene, has OPM been encouraged at all to try and
recruit people that receive training through these centers for the federal

          MR. KALIL:  OPM has been very involved in sort of our overall
efforts to increase employment for people with disabilities, but I don't
have an answer to your specific question.

          Q    What role will Section 508 play in increasing technology

          MR. KALIL:  We think that the federal government is a large
purchaser of information technology.  So we think that by requiring that
the federal government purchase technology that is designed from the
beginning to be accessible for people with disabilities, this will clearly
increase the incentive of the private sector to develop more resources to
this area.

          Q    Is this particularly community technology center unusual
among the ones that have -- because of this technology you're talking

          MR. KALIL:  I think that they -- because it is located at the
Disability Network, I think there are a couple of things that make it
unique.  Number one, it's staffed by people with disabilities.  Number two,
it has a certification program to train more people to use assistive
technologies.  Number three, obviously, they've made a real effort to begin
purchasing technologies like screen readers that will make it accessible
for people with disabilities.  But it's a resource for the entire
community, not just people with disabilities.  So it's integrated.

          Q    Is this topic the main reason for the trip to Michigan?

          MR. KALIL:  Yes.

          MR. SPERLING:  Yes.  The history of this was that when we were
taking our third New Markets trip, which is our focus to try to encourage
more mobilization investment on bringing people and communities who weren't
fully benefitting from the economy on board, we did it on the digital
divide.  And then we made a decision during that process whether or not we
were going to try to deal with the issue of digital technology and
Americans with disabilities.  And we decided during that process that we
would rather do a separate day on this where we could focus on that.  And
so we chose to focus more on the poverty aspects in that trip, but we
actually announced on that trip that we would do a separate day on this.

          But, clearly, we are looking at this as a way of mobilizing both
the private sector and the federal government to look at every opportunity,
to look at how technology, visual technology can help close the digital
divide.  And that means looking at, from the beginning processes, how
research is done at companies to the research in the federal government to
whether we have the resources to make sure that those technologies are
accessible to people regardless of income.

          If you think about the shock and surprise at the high
unemployment rates in Native American communities in the face of a strong
economy, people should feel that same -- they should be equally disturbed
by the unacceptably high unemployment rates among Americans with
disabilities.  So we feel that this is not only the focusing on closing the
digital divide for Americans with disability not only equitable and morally
the right thing to do, but it really is an economic imperative when one
considers the lack of potential being utilized.

          I also think that, from the government level, people are going to
have to do considerable soul searching as this technology is developed --
if we do not have means of making it accessible to lower income Americans
with disabilities.  Whatever arguments may exist, whatever incentive
arguments people worry about, about devoting significant resources in other
walks of life, nobody is going to contest that by having generous funding
for assistive technology that it's somehow going to give people a negative
incentive or an incentive to become disabled -- that's absurd.

          And on the other hand, I think that as you get this technology, I
think it's going to be a strain on the nation's conscience to say a
disabled person from an upper middle class home can afford something like
Eye-Gaze, which has remarkable capabilities, but somebody from a
lower-income family simply is told "tough luck" twice.

          Q    Do you anticipate addressing the tenet that a person -- that
acquiring assistive technology would have to be necessarily tied to the
willingness to work?  There are, for instance, older adults with
disabilities who are not going to go back to work who could still use the
Eye-Gaze system or any number of other assistive technologies.

          MR. SPERLING:  Well, think one of the reasons that it's so
important for the President to raise this issue is that there has not been
a full, or really a partial national debate on that type of issue and the
criteria.  And certainly people are not even familiar with the full degree
of the technologies, but certainly the need for people to have access to
technologies that can help them be educated in the first place, and then
have productive living in the second place -- one of the things that will
be raised tomorrow is we will be raising some inquiries about the degree
that key federal programs that have not looked in this area, should.  And
that could go beyond just the work situation clearly to whether some of
these technologies are essential for rehabilitation and independent living.

          But I think these are -- because they're resource questions,
they're inherently difficult questions.  But I think there will be an
increasing imperative.

          Q    Is that Eye-Gaze, is that a brand name?

          MR. KALIL:  Yes.  I actually had a chance to do the demonstration
of that, actually in the -- the technology was actually set up at the Vice
President's residence during the commemoration of the ADA Act, so I can
just tell you as kind of a novice, you're completely still.  You look at
the screen, a dot moves around.  It tracks your eyes.

          From there they had the set up to a printer, lights, everything,
so that you could look to lights.  All you had to do was be able to move
your eyeball to the box that said lights, and then it would give a chance
to turn it on or off, and if you looked at on, the light would turn on, and
then -- I tried to type with it.  It's just a little hard because if you're
not used to it, if you're trying to type your name, you hit letters you
don't mean to hit.  But it was just -- but for one who'd never experienced
it before, it was remarkable.

          Q    Don Joseph from Able TV.  Once certification is achieved at
one of these centers, is there a plan --

          MR. SPERLING:  This is Gene.  I apologize.  I was late because I
was with the President following the meeting with the Italian Prime
Minister.  I have to now pop off.  I'll leave Tom Kalil with you, but
thanks for getting on the call.

          Q    Thank you.

          Q    Earlier you mentioned the President's concern for web
accessibility.  Has he, or does he plan to release standards for web

          MR. KALIL:  We would anticipate working with the W3C web
accessibility initiative.

          Q    As a voluntary standard?

          MR. KALIL:  Right. All right, thank you all very much.

          Q    Thank you.

                             END     2:55 P.M. EDT

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E